Yoga Gently

May 2019 01/06 - 08/06 £695
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Snake Therapy -Ophiotherapia by Laura Shannon

Dear friends of mine run a lovely yoga retreat centre in Mani, where their son keeps a number of snakes including a beautiful Royal Python, named Monty. Monty and I have met on a number of occasions over the years, and in the past, when I have spent time holding him, I have felt that his presence bestows a sense of great peace and calm. More than that, Monty has always shown an uncanny ability to move directly to places of tension in my shoulders, and to gently yet firmly massage the muscles there in a way that helps relieve pain.

Therefore, on our recent visit a few days ago, I decided to let Monty go wherever he wanted, just to see where he might choose to move. I had had quite a bad fall from my bicycle several weeks before, resulting in multiple injuries, to my back and to my right elbow, hand, rib, shoulder, calf and foot.

Snakes and healing - an ancient Greek tradition

An ancient Greek tradition

First Monty went straight to my right elbow and spent quite a long time circling around it.

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Next Monty wrapped himself around my right hand for several minutes.

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After that he moved down the outside of my right leg,

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and fully embraced my right lower leg. He stayed here for at least twenty minutes.

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Next Monty spent half an hour attending to my right foot and ankle, where he was very active, circling and massaging the whole ankle and foot.

Monty continued with long visits to the ribs, shoulder and upper back.All of the places he gave his attention to were the exact places where I had been injured.After more than two hours together, I seemed to feel him inform me that the healing session was over. He curled up into his usual ball shape and seemed to go to sleep.

I felt very well afterwards, and since that day I have been remarkably free of much of the pain which had lingered since my accident – in fact, I can now walk without pain for the first time in two months. I can’t give Monty all the credit, since my excellent physiotherapist in Stoupa, Mara von Heyden, also helped me enormously, but my serpent-healing session appeared to be a turning point.

I find it interesting that Monty was drawn to visit the injured places and paid no attention at all to the uninjured parts of my body. My partner Kostantis’ theory is that injured areas, which tend to be inflamed, are just a tiny bit warmer than surrounding areas, and therefore might appeal to a warmth-seeking snake.

But it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the reason for Monty’s attention to the injuries, I found his presence to be helpful and soothing. We know that in ancient Greece, snakes were kept in the temples for purposes of ceremony, healing and divination; numerous archaeological finds show priestesses holding sacred snakes, including small pythons about Monty’s size like the ones seen encircling the body of this Cretan priestess statue from Knossos ca 1600 BCE:


My own theory about this priestess’ tall headgear is that the pythons would have been taken from their cool homes in a torpid, nonmoving state, and placed inside the (ceramic?) headdress. The heat of the priestess’s movements throughout the ceremony – in my imagination, particularly through dance – would eventually warm the snake and inspire it to awaken, emerge and move around the priestess’s body as depicted on this and similar votive figures.

I tried this once on a previous visit when we placed a sleeping Monty atop my hat while drinking tea with his caretakers…but he continued to snooze quite peacefully on my head for an hour or meow. I guess he did not feel like moving around that day. Next time I shall try dancing with him on my head.

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Interestingly, the Cretan labyrinth in particular, and the Greek spiral motif in general, are connected with the traditional dance called Tsakonikos, which is one of the most ancient Greek dances and among the very few still danced in the region of Mani where Monty now lives. It is often danced by women only in a pattern which spirals in and out and, like the serpent itself, is considered to symbolise life leading into death and again into life.

Ophis is the ancient Greek word for serpent, hence the new term: Ophiotherapia.

My heartfelt thanks to Monty and his devoted caretakers – and, of course, to our ancestors in ceremony, dance and animal communication who have left so many inspiring traces for us to follow.

Laura Shannon